How a New York Times reporter got a social media minder

How The New York Times Jerusalem bureau, Jodi Rudoren, was given a social media minderThe Washington Post reports on the curious case of The New York Times reporter, Jodi Rudoren, who has been given her own social media minder who will be looking at every Tweet and Facebook status update that she writes to check and edit them before sending.

We all know that social media can be tricky and that its instantaneous nature can cause huge issues for us all, which is a problem considering how essential Twitter has become to most working journalists today. There have been cases of journalists Tweeting in haste and suffering Twitter storms at length. It has in the worst cases proved the undoing of some journalists.

So why has Rudoren been given a social media minder? Part of the answer is easy. She is the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief and was recently at the forefront of the it’s Gaza coverage. Israel and the Palestinians is a hugely dividing issue and can lead some journalists to lose their impartiality – some embarrassingly so as in the case of BBC presenter Mishal Husain.

In the case of Rudoren it looks very much like the paper sees her as something of a loose canon when it comes to social media channels and has decided to rein her in before she makes anymore “poor choices”.

This follows a number of recent social media gaffes for which Rudoren has paid the price. During the recent fighting in Gaza Rudoren wrote one post on Facebook where she described Palestinians as “ho-hum” about the death of loved ones. She also wrote of their “limited lives”. In another she talked of shedding her first tears in Gaza over a letter from an Israeli family.

She talks about the trouble she got herself into in a recent column by New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan.

Rudoren admits she made bad judgment calls: “Poor choices,” she says. She says that instead of “ho-hum” she should have written “steadfast or resilient.” These changes, however, she did not make and so she ended up with a social media minder. Surely that’s a first for a journalist from a Western democracy?

As far as the New York Times goes that isn’t the kind of impartiality it expects from its senior journalists, but its solution is a bizarre one.

Journalists have to be trusted

Journalists have to be trusted to use social media responsibly and in the case of reporting onIsraelnot to report in a bias fashion. Obviously really tough for some, but when it comes to social media most are sensibly enough to know whether that what they are posting passes the test of acceptable journalism or not. If it doesn’t pass the test then it is the delete button that is hit rather than send.

That said Rudoren tells WaPo that she is okay with this and that you can never be too careful. No argument with that, but some self editing and judgment is really what is needed rather than a social media minder.

“I work with an editor on a strategy on posts,” says Rudoren. Does the editor review each and every tweet? “That’s what working with an editor means. They’re going to look at it. We’ll decide together what to do,” she says.

Is she OK with all that? Yes. “You know, in this beat, one can’t be too careful,” she says. The idea behind the close supervision was this: “Let’s give her some support. That’s the intent and I appreciate that,” she told the Erik Wemple Blog this afternoon in a phone chat.

The New York Times stands by its solution to Rudoren’s candid/reckless expression of impressions. “There’s nothing strange or earthshattering, in my view, about how she and her editors plan to handle the social media component of her journalism,” writes Phil Corbett, the paper’s standards editor. “Editors on various desks, including our social media team, have worked in a variety of ways to offer guidance, support and suggestions for reporters who are integrating social media into their work. Occasionally we’ve even had to point out when we thought someone had stumbled, though it hasn’t been very often. This doesn’t mean we copy edit anyone’s tweets, but it’s good to have discussions and feedback as people go in new directions. That isn’t true only of Jodi, though her beat is under more of a microscope than anyone’s,” The Washington Post reports.

Rudoren might want to take a quick look at Twitter’s recent tips for journalists or maybe even a look at this The New York Times: Five guiding principles of social media.

My personal favourite in all of this though is this: The best social media policy ever written.